You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really are a heel.
And, we’re not talking about Unleashing Heel in December. Because…clearly…no one is any good at doing that in the Steelers organization.
Under Christmas trees, throughout the nation and the world, kids of all sizes and ages received Pittsburgh Steelers Nike Limited Jerseys of varying numbers 11, 30, 7, 19 & 18…and only a few weeks earlier they carried so much more significance, style and value.
Following a disappointing squeaker against a grossly depleted Baltimore Ravens team and then successive losses against the Washington Football Team and the Buffalo Bills, the season found itself getting graffitied with images of Ebenezer Scrooge.
But then…a loss last week against the woeful, anemic, Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals by the score of 17-27…and the spray cans were emptied.
You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch. You’ve got termites in your smile. You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile.
After pursuing perfection with a 11-0 start, and inflating expectations as big as the Goodyear Blimp, the Steelers have been downward spiraling toward mediocrity and there is more of a Hindenburg feel in the air.
So, what are you going to do about it Steelers Nation? You’ve got to give it a Spin.
The Emperor’s Clothes
If you want to trace back to where the Bengals game was lost, it was on the first play from the line of scrimmage.
It was obviously a scripted statement by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers coaches to the Bengals defense, Colin Cowherd, his pencil necked colleagues in the broadcast booths and all of the grumblers and faithless among Steelers Nation…which were many.
Big Ben received the snap, glanced off the safety and then looked right and put everything he had into a deep pass down the sidelines to James Washington.
It was going to be the play that silenced the critics and shut the mouths of anyone who would dare question the strategy of putting all of the franchise eggs into the basket of the future Hall of Fame quarterback this season.
Rumors of his arm’s demise had been greatly exaggerated, they believed, and this play would snuff out the wildly spinning out of control narrative in one single touchdown torching scoring blow.
Instead, and somewhat predictably for those of us who have been watching closely this year, the ball fluttered through air, and was a good fifteen yards shy of where it should have landed. The result was an incomplete and poorly thrown pass…the first of many to come in the barely watchable Bengals game.
It seemed at that moment, somewhat absurdly, it was the first time the Steelers great quarterback, and his associated offensive brain trusts realized that adjustments needed to be made to the game plan and the 2020 campaign’s overall offensive strategy.
This is no longer a quarterback that can roll right, lean back on one leg, in between four towering trees of defensive linemen, with a linebacker on his back and throw a ball 70 yards against the grain through 40 mile an hour winds, into the awaiting arms of a grateful receiver.
Yes…the Emperor has no clothes. And, apparently neither does the Steelers offensive coordinator.
Now, can you please design an offense that will work this Emperor? Because he still is amazing in many ways.
You know…snaps under center, play action, run heavy, sleight of hand, change of pace, creativity, deception, corruption, chicanery of the highest order.
And quick. We’re running out of season.
Tomlin’s Achilles Heel
It’s undeniably true. Coach Mike Tomlin loves his players. He loves being a part of the Steelers organization, one where both longevity and loyalty are granted liberally to head coaches by the ownership.
And, you get the feeling, for the most part, he loves his job, and all of its perks, of being a coach in the National Football League.
What about Steelers Nation? Does he love us?
Well…we’re okay, as long as we keep in our lane, behind security fences where we can safely wave our Terrible Towels, dance to Renegade and cheer as the team enters the field.
In truth, you kind of get the sense, despite the occasional platitudes he’s thrown our way, that he’s always viewed Steelers Nation as “that uncle” you need to invite for Thanksgiving dinner. No one likes the things Uncle Steelers Nation says after a few too many drinks or a loss, but you’ve got to invite us anyway because, after all, we’re family.
And that’s fine. We don’t need to be loved. We just want to be listened to on occasion. Like…when things are completely obvious to us and pretty much the rest of collective NFL wisdom.
Coach Tomlin? He really seems to get a kick out of doing the exact opposite of what is communicated as the unified outcry of Steelers Nation. It’s done with a smirk and a well worded dismissal, but we’re blown off regardless.
Steelers Nation wasn’t wrong the end of last season when we insisted that Tomlin needed to shake up his coaching staff. We weren’t wrong when we said it would take more than just a return of Big Ben to the lineup for us to be able to be competitive at the highest levels offensively.
But, here we are. It’s the hand that Tomlin dealt himself. It’s his game. We’re just here to watch. And to be smirked at.
After three losses in a row, it should be understandable the natives are getting restless. What was looking like such a promising season is heading towards a cliff and Steelers Nation, sitting in the back seat are expressing their, shall we say, “discomfort.”
This has prompted the annual tradition of “Bandwagon Quotes” from many of the players. There are quite a few wintry varietals, but they can be summed up with this one:
“You can get off of the bandwagon now, but we ain’t letting you back on.”
This is where we need to step in to correct factual and historical inaccuracies with these Tweets and Instagram posts.
You see, we DO get it. Players are royalty. They are the ones with the elite talent, the NFL pedigree as well as the resulting wealth and fame. They are the only chosen ones with the experience of being under the lights in the big stadiums, under pressure and having to make plays when it counts.
These are all truisms and is why we so freely stand and cheer and spill our drinks and nacho cheese on ourselves in celebration of our beloved players’ fine skills.
However…and this is a big however…the players don’t have the keys to the bandwagon.
You see, as longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fans, quite a few of us were on the bandwagon twenty years before many of these players were born.
And, while many of these players in their youth had their bedrooms papered with John Elway, Charles Woodson, Ray Lewis, Clay Matthews, Dez Bryant…or gasp…Tom Brady posters, we were firmly sitting in the Steelers bandwagon.
The sad truth is as well, that long after many of the Steelers players on the current roster are receiving paychecks from other NFL organizations after they seek out greener pastures, we will still be on the Pittsburgh Steelers bandwagon.
So…while it’s true, we will never know what it feels like to have to catch a pass in a snowstorm, in front of 65,000 fans with the playoffs on the line…we are very skilled and experienced when it comes to the bandwagon.
And, there won’t be anyone kicking us off…just because we express our frustration.
Getting A Real Kick Out Of It
As Steelers Nation and coaches (hopefully) reshape the expectations of their football team this year, the 2020 identity is beginning to be clarified.
This is not a team that is capable of offensively imposing its will by running over the opposition or consistently blowing by opponents in a passing game.
Instead, it’s going to need to rely on some old school Steelers football. Which is just fine. That means a team with an exceptional defense that will keep the Steelers in every game, and that will be counted on to make plays big enough to change a game.
As far as the offense, it will need to emphasize winning field positioning and managing the game with wisdom and strategy.
As Clint Eastwood once said in a movie…”A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
Which raises the importance of the Steelers special teams. They very well may be the deciding vote on how far the team goes in the playoffs.
After a strong showing early on in the year, the unit needs to regain its footing with its coverage capability. There have been too many recent bursts of activity on opposing returns.
But, as far as the two specialists, Punter Jordan Berry and Kicker Chris Boswell, the Steelers are in capable hands…or shall we say…capable feet.
Who would have thought it a few weeks ago? That both Berry and Boswell would play such a large role in the Steelers success?
The Stockings Are Filled
The Steelers didn’t give us the Bengals win that we hoped for as our present for Christmas, but this doesn’t mean that our stockings aren’t still filled for a deep run in the playoffs.
There is no question the Steelers stifled offense needs to get itself functioning at a much higher level…or in the current status, functioning at all.
In particular, how about approaching the first quarter of football games as if they really count on the scoreboard. Because…news flash…they do.
Yet, with all of the challenges they’ve experienced over the course of the past month, the good news is that the pieces really are in place for this Steelers offense to turn things around.
No, the Steelers don’t have the collective offensive weapons of the Kansas City Chiefs, or the Green Bay Packers, or even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they do have sufficient talent to put points on the board.
For the most part, injuries on the offensive side of the ball have had minimal impact. This offensive line was able to run block in the recent past. They can do it again.
It’s a matter of the lights being turned back on again. Simple offense. Back to the basics. The little things being done extraordinarily well.
This could happen. And, it’s going to need to happen against the impressive defense of the Indianapolis Colts.
Two Old Warriors
Two great defenses. Two old great quarterbacks. Both, out of the outstanding 2004 quarterback draft class.
Ben Roethlisberger versus Philip Rivers.
Does Ben still have a chip on his shoulder for getting drafted below Rivers? Probably not, but it makes for a good Hollywood promo nonetheless.
The Steelers are out of time. With three losses in a row, they can’t lose this one against the Colts, and they really can’t end the season with a loss against the Cleveland Browns.
At this point, reestablishing momentum is as important as anything else.
Which means…if the Steelers are going to win a Super Bowl this year, they are going to need to win out.